07/12/2010 03:07 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Clean Energy, Brown Fields, Wild Spaces

One of the best things about my work in green project development is that I get to see how innovative projects inspire new policies, which in turn open doors for more exciting new projects. My favorites are the ones that move us to a clean energy economy, help communities, create jobs, and clean up the places most affected by our dirty industrial past.

Ever since my own experience converting abandoned, illegal dumping grounds in the South Bronx into nationally award winning community parks along the Bronx River, I have worked to successfully reclaim old land for new and better uses. A new bill introduced in Congress gives us a chance to take brownfields* sites across the USA and recycle them as productive platforms for clean power.

Renewable energy developers need incentives to utilize these undervalued assets to benefit their businesses. Senator Lautenberg from NJ has introduced the Cleanfields Act, co-sponsored by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH). The Cleanfields Act will give utilities a non-monetary incentive to use brownfields for renewable energy development by invoking the Renewable Electricity Standard (RES - still pending in Congress), to help utilities better meet their commitments to the RES by choosing brownfields to locate their generation facilities.

Putting renewable energy on contaminated lands is a great idea all around. Communities near brownfields often suffer health effects from proximity to toxins, they bring down real estate values, and they cause other economic harm to neighborhoods. In addition, we need to get renewable energy on the grid as quickly as possible to begin to repair the damage caused by fossil fuel. Siting renewables on disturbed lands causes less conflicts than siting it in pristine areas that may have resource conflicts. Putting clean energy in the places that need and want it most is an exciting and real way to bring low-income communities into close contact with the clean energy economy.

Luckily, there are already many success stories of renewable energy on brownfields and other contaminated lands. From New York to Colorado to Pennsylvania to California, solar and wind projects have been built on contaminated lands.

Senator Lautenberg's bill (HR 3329) is an excellent step that will help us conserving irreplaceable natural spaces, and inspire even more projects producing clean, green energy.

*Brownfields are former industrial sites that are contaminated, abandoned, or derelict. The U.S Conference of Mayors estimates there are over 450,000 brownfields across the US, from landfills to old gas stations to former manufacturing plants.